The world is currently in the grip of the worst refugee crisis of our generation. Ongoing civil war and violence have displaced thousands of people in the Middle East and parts of Africa, and many are seeking a new home in Europe. While a great number of European citizens have openly welcomed refugees, others have been visibly hostile towards them.
Among the EU nations, Germany currently receives the most requests for asylum. According to Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, Germany has estimated that approximately 800,000 people could request asylum by the end of this year. The announcement has stirred mixed emotions. Although the majority of the German population has been eager to open their doors to those in need, a minority of people harbors animosity towards refugees.
In the first six months of 2015, 150 arson attacks on refugee housing were recorded and even more crimes have been committed over the summer. Compared to the 170 total attacks recorded in 2014, this year’s number is alarming.
Fortunately the number of German citizens who are eager to help far outnumber those opposed to the influx of refugees. Campus-Asyl (Campus Asylum) serves as one micro-example of German solidarity with the recent upsurge in refugee resettlement.
A Warm Welcome
Campus-Asyl, an initiative located in Regensburg, Germany that began in the fall of 2014, exists to provide a warm welcome to the arriving refugees and assist them in successfully integrating into the German community. Sponsored by the University of Regensburg’s department of “German as a Second Language” as well as the university’s Catholic and Protestant communities, Campus-Asyl operates completely on the basis of donations. Despite its religious backing, Campus-Asyl and all of its projects are secular. A large number of students and community members are active with Campus-Asyl; about 400 people subscribe to the online newsletter, and hundreds have donated their time and talents to volunteer with various projects.
Focusing on helping refugees integrate into German society, Campus-Asyl’s current projects range over numerous activities such as music, sports, and German language classes. As the group grows, more activities will be offered in areas including legal assistance, childcare, and cooking events.
Many of the refugees in the Regensburg area are from Syria and Afghanistan, and a large percentage often have no substantial knowledge of the German language. To overcome this barrier, Campus-Asyl offers a “German crash course” to teach basic vocabulary and simple communication skills. Campus-Asyl created original lessons and developed an innovative teaching curriculum based on the refugee population’s needs. The crash course, consisting of six lessons taught over three weeks, is convenient for most refugees’ schedules. Campus-Asyl offers a child care service during the lessons, allowing parents to learn in peace. This project has been successful; up to 50 adults have participated in each three-week course.
All of Campus-Asyl’s projects are dedicated to promoting cultural exchange and open-mindedness. In July, Campus-Asyl held a “Summer Fest” project to bring approximately 70 refugees, volunteers and local friends together to get-acquainted at a friendly BBQ featuring music and games. Christian Ecker, a member of Campus-Asyl’s Public Relations team, stresses, “We want to have a welcoming culture that embraces cultural diversity”. Not only German culture is taught; instead, an open atmosphere is adopted so that all have the opportunity to learn the traditions of others. For example, at the Summer Fest, one could hear both Arabic and German songs, demonstrating an accepting atmosphere for Arab and German cultural diversity.
Another pivotal goal of Campus-Asyl’s mission is the belief that refugees and the German population must work together to actualize their collective future. Ecker states, “We want refugees coming to Germany to be responsible, self reliant parts of society”. The aim is not to belittle or pity refugees, but rather to enable by allowing them to assume leadership roles within Campus-Asyl’s projects. This in turn will give them the skills and confidence to actively participate within the Regensburg community.
Although there have been instances of aggression and lack of acceptance towards refugees in other parts of Germany, Ecker insists that this is not a major issue in the Regensburg area. “The readiness to help is overwhelming”, he says. “So many people want to participate in the programs and donate items”. Pessimism and non-violent skepticism directed at refugees nevertheless remain common within the country. Ecker believes these concerns are part of a normal and healthy process of open dialogue. When all concerns, both positive and negative, are voiced, the path towards compromise and wider acceptance of refugees is made possible in Regensburg, in Germany, and throughout all of Europe.